HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE

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by Lukas Feigelfeld

grade: 7.5

Divided into four chapters – Shadows, Horn, Blood and FireHagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse presents a true crescendo within itself, for a series of visual suggestions, to which the constant musical score – by the group MMMD – undoubtedly adds great value.

That mountain house

A lonely mountain hut. Two women living alone. The terrible plague epidemic that struck Europe in the mid-14th century. The hypocrisy and bigotry of a society that stands as judge against those considered ‘different’. In his debut feature film Hagazzussa: A Heathen’s Curse, young Austrian filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld has successfully combined all these elements in a visually powerful film full of symbolism, further enriched by a disturbing and, at the same time, stunningly beautiful location, the perfect co-star of a feature film which, at least abroad, has not received the attention it deserved.

We find ourselves in the 14th century. Albrun (young Celina Peter) and her mother Marta (Claudia Martini) live alone in a small mountain hut. The girl’s father is unknown and the whole village is used to believe that her mother is a witch. Constantly threatened in their home, the two women experience the plague first hand, as Marta suddenly falls ill. The years pass, Albrun is now an adult (played by an extraordinary Aleksandra Cwen) and she in turn has a daughter. She too, unfortunately, seems destined to receive the same treatment as her mother.

It is, in fact, precisely a conservative and hypocritical society that is accused by Lukas Feigelfeld in his Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse. Those who are “different” are mostly seen as a kind of malign identity. But how long will it take before they really become what people believe them to be? It will be strong, strong visual suggestions, hallucinations and dreamlike scenes depicted here in their full power that will stun the audience, annihilate them, confuse them to such an extent that it will not be easy for them to understand where reality ends and illusion begins.

Divided into four chapters – Shadows, Horn, Blood and FireHagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse presents a true crescendo within itself, for a series of visual suggestions, to which the constant musical score – by the group MMMD – adds great value. And while the dense woods – symbol of the oneiric and guardian of the most burning secrets – are able, from time to time, to protect the protagonist from external threats, they can also immediately become the setting for the most atrocious rituals. And as the film progresses, these rituals become more and more bloody, more and more disturbing. All this is achieved through a directorial approach that immediately shows great stylistic maturity on the part of the director himself (the medium-length films Beton, made in 2011, and Interferenz, made in 2014, had already been well received), who, in turn, is not afraid to take his time, opting throughout most of the film for a predominantly contemplative approach, made up of long silences and strong suggestions triggered – at least as far as the first part of the film is concerned – by the unseen.

This approach, which clearly draws heavily from both the Krampusch tradition and Expressionism, favours either small, cramped settings or wide open spaces to convey a disturbing sense of agoraphobia, and makes the eternal dualism of the human being – in which good and evil have always coexisted – one of its most important strengths. In terms of certain directorial choices, one might even think of the filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala: the unseen, the long silences and the numerous suggestions connect their works to Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse; and while the house where Albrun lives reminds us in many ways of the villa in which the protagonists of Goodnight Mommy (2014) live, the particular settings and their strong symbolism closely recall the short film The sinful Women of Höllfall (2017).

Yet, at the same time, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse undoubtedly has its own, marked personality. And in several respects it also differs from the contemporary The Witch (made in 2015 by Robert Eggers), to which it has often been compared. Lukas Feigengeld, for his part, a true cinephile, has shown an undoubted mastery of film that will hopefully provide us with many more nice surprises in the future.

Original title: Hagazussa
Directed by: Lukas Feigelfeld
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2017
Running time: 102’
Genre: horror
Cast: Aleksandra Cwen, Celina Peter, Claudia Martini, Tanja Petrovsky, Haymon Maria Buttinger, Franz Stadler, Killian Abeltshauser, Gerdi Marlen Simonn, Thomas Petruo, Judith Geerts, Maximilian Hinterberger, Richard Gerum, Mario Schulze, Gerhard Lentner, Andreas Steiner
Screenplay: Lukas Feigelfeld
Cinematography: Mariel Baqueiro
Produced by: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin, Retina Fabrik

Info: the page of Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse on iMDb